6/25/09

Michael lived his life an idol, from a very young age, and it really wasn't until today, when they were showing video of him walking into a court room, of all places, did the humanity of the man shine through from behind the coarse, plural veneer.


Revered as a boy-king, the god-monster, clown, perpetrator/victim, Michael embodied the generation he served. Twisted. Boonsome. Cold Warian. Potential, unlimited.


It is more than fitting that Mr. Jackson should find his end in this way. The utter tragedy carries the storyline logically. Weeks away from the 'final' shows, designed to relaunch his career and cancel his debts, Mr. Jackson succombed to a body stretched far, far beyond its natural capacity.

Listen to this (above). Wonderful and haunting.

It will be left to mystery what would have become of the 10 scheduled nights in London. Would it have marked an unlikely comeback, with the master himself dancing and singing himself to the crowds' content? It could just as easily have been an utter, terrible rain wreck. Indications were that the rehearsals, overall, were going well, or at least, well enough.


But he dies, oddly enough, with a sort of integrity, gained from the suddenness of the occurrence, combined with his history of being abused, and the public's subtle acknowledgement that we ALL played a role in his mosterification. Even today, CNN showed live helicopter video footage of Mr. Jackson's wrapped corpse being carried into the morgue.


We nearly forget that Farrah Fawcett also died today. I somehow can't imagine any respectable news agency relishing in the glimpse of her corpse as it made its way to the mortuary. Her lengthy, dignified struggle with cancer ended quietly. Yet, with Michael, it is expected, and almost appropriate (not really) to follow the transport copter and zoom in as the shrouded body is lowered to a gurney and brought inside.


And we NEED to see this, the reality seems so unbelievable.

But Michael did not capture the hearts and rapt attention of so many INSANE people because he was a celebrity, a freak show, or the butt of a good joke. They loved him, adored him, to a fault, with what originated as a love for the music the man made, and the way it made them feel.

The King is dead. Somebody tell Michael Jackson! Poor, poor little Michael Jackson. Long live the king.


Some paragraphs above links to a different Michael Jackson video. Man, that gentleman could DANCE! Sure, he was an alleged pedophile, but let's not forget, he was acquitted in a court of law. A court of law!

thanks to robert g. campbell for some subject content
Billy in two buttes.

6/23/09

special thanks to Ton Loc, from whom I stole this lovely picture.
Ed McMahon: the original Funky Cold Medina

6/19/09

check these two recent pics from NASA, the first is a patch of zircon on the earth's crust, which is 4.4 billion years old, the oldest material yet discovered by science. I haven't read what the second picture is, but does it really matter? click on pics for giant sizes, or visit NASA on the webbernet. Also, I believe NASA announced today, for like the third time, it seems, the existence of definitive proof of the existence of water on the surface of Mars in its past. Delish.

movies are funny

6/18/09

Dear Rick (Reilly), I have enjoyed your columns for a very long time. I have a good one for you, re: curmudgeon coaches, etc.


Pitching in a game @ the age of 12, I had the misfortune of having an umpire who's son happened to be on the opposing team, due to a scheduling snafu.


This gentleman was calling balls all day, just killing me. I'm 12, so I have to keep my cool. I continue pitching to his miniscule strike zone.


This all culminated in quite the exceptional fashion:


A ball is hit into left field. The man on second (I wasn't a great pitcher) makes his way around third base, heading for home. The throw at the plate is late.


The catcher receives the throw as the hitter rounds second, on his way to third. He sees this, but on the basis that our third baseman was terrible, just terrible, at baseball, the catcher decides to RUN to third, ball in hand, in an attempt to tag out the runner as he makes his way from second.


It was close, but the catcher made it! He tagged out the runner, by outrunning him to the base. From home plate.


"YERRRRR OUTTA THERE!!!!" we should have heard the umpire scream.


Instead, the umpire, his son sitting on the opposing team's bench, calls SAFE!!!


Now, he was verily out. It was close, but not particularly.


What, pray tell, did the umpire provide as the basis for his call???



"The runner is safe by way of interference! By tagging the runner out on his way to third base, the catcher interfered with the runner's ability to make it safely to the base. Therefore, the runner is safe due to interference by way of TAGGING OUT."



Now, of course, those were not his exact, eloquent words. But the play stood. Runner safe at third. Interference.


This is a delightful picture of our young president as a boy playing baseball. This was not my original choice of picture, though. My first thought was to drive to my parents house at 2 in the morning, grab an album of old photos, and get to scanning. My second thought was to do a google image search for 'kid baseball'. There I came across a spectacular picture of a young lad pitching, in a full on Phillies' uniform. My man even has his own website, and it looks like his daddy is in the Navy. I'm sure you can find him yourself if so inclined, but even though the kid's got his own site (a la www.billydougherty.com [DNE]) and it is a GREAT pic, I just don't know about the moral efficacy of posting pictures of 9 year old kids that I don't know on my site. Remember this family?

6/17/09

ladies and gentlemen, i give you new found glory.

















6/11/09

I fell asleep on the couch last night, missing the spectacular end of the Phils game, as well as the Colbert Report. I am @ work currently, so I cannot watch the below clip yet, but I am sure that it is as good as the Huffington Post makes it sound: (Sadly, the below clip does not include Chase Utley banging dingers....)
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Tom Hanks Care Package
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorStephen Colbert in Iraq

6/9/09

Huff Post serves up this gem with, courtesy of College Humor & FBN.
CONGRATULATIONS: BRENDAN HUFFMAN!



You’ve heard of the webbies…


Well, I am proud to offer my first award for one of the prestigious

SCRIBALDS

which are awarded throughout the year to deserving folk who have done something to enrich the community.


Our inaugural award, the Ted DiBiase trophy in the category of Metamemetical Catchphrasing, goes to Brendan Huffman, the first in our group of friends to have established an actual, factual, metamemetical catchprase for mass global consumption. If you have been watching Here Come the Newlyweds, on the American Broadcasting Company, you have gotten to know Brendan for his friendly, engaging, calm demeanor, and also for his oft-replayed metamemetical catchphrase:


“The last time my butt saw that much action… I did some time in prison.”


Congratulations, friend.





There go the jerks!

Last night’s episode of ABC’s Here Come the Newlyweds saw the departure of one of the show’s ‘heel’ couples, the Cox’s. Aptly named, the Cox’s were OK, I guess. You could just tell, in the long run, team favorites the Huffman’s were not going to mesh well with the Cox’s. The gentleman Cox, whose name escapes me, went so far as to lobby against dear Brendan, despite the Huffman’s having obtained immunity by winning the Hardware shopping competition, and choosing to forgo the $20,000 prize (to maintain immunity). Sure, he was joking, but you just knew they would be trouble moving forward.



The Huffman’s have the added benefit of clearly being one of the smartest couples on the show. This has helped them consistently score in the higher percentiles in competition, and proved quite helpful in last night’s Hardware store victory. But again, when Brendan attempted to elucidate the keys of their success to the group, he was thwarted by the rude Cox gentleman, who basically said as much as “nobody cares, asshole!” Nobody but me treats my Brendan like that!

Last week’s losers, the Oskowskis, were one of my lesser favorites, mainly because the guy just rubbed me the wrong way. It wasn’t his fondness for his musculature that bothered me, but something definitely bothered me about him. That was, until they were kicked off, and we were treated to the customary ‘couple retrospective’ at which point I said to myself, “awww, he’s not so bad…he’s just a bog softie.”

I had no such thoughts or regrets upon the departure of the Cox’s, although I will miss his farts…. But, as the great Jack Nicholson says in The Bucket List “never trust a fart.”

6/8/09

6/7/09

If it comes to pass that I haven't purchased one of these little buggers (I've been in the market for a new phone) within, let's say, the next three weeks, it is more than likely that Sprint will be moments away from losing my business. There are seemingly solid reasons for considering the Pre, and I will be (considering it).
But in every review I have read so far, no one, to my knowledge has said that the Pre is better than it's closest rival, AT&T's Apple iPhone. But they all say that the Pre is exceptional. Why might I stick with Sprint & Palm?
First, the keyboard. The slide out qwerty is a big advantage, as the thought of using a touchscreen interface for all text related activities is not an enticing one. On this, obviously, the iPhone loses points.
poor, poor Pre: hilariously, an image search for "Pre" on google turns up, on page 1, a graphic, graphic image from the website (which apparently exists): www.beautifulcervix.com

Secondly, the fact that I am already a customer, and already comfortable with the Palm platform (though the Pre platform will be much different, no doubt), makes me an ideal candidate to jump at the opportunity to own and operate the extraordinary new phone.
I had a third inviting feature that I was going to write about the Pre, but it turns out, the Pre does not actually have video recording capabilities. I took this for granted, considering my 3 year old Treo has video. But alas, no.
With Apple set to release information about the new iPhone OS and likely an entire phone upgrade as well, Sprint is well likely to lose my loyalties. Pre's inability to entice user's like myself does not bode well for its, or Palm's long term viability. But, perhaps, one of two things could happen.

a.) I could go into that Sprint store tomorrow, touch the machine, and fall in love. That qwerty keyboard really is a plus. And as of today (but maybe not as of tomorrow) the Pre has the superior camera.
b.) They lose me, and users like me, but manage to corner enough of the growing market to be a player in the game long enough to innovate even greater, more enticing designs.
In the end, I feel I am likely to get the new iPhone in a month or two when it is released, leaving the Pre the also-ran that which almost could. The wildcard in all of this is a laptop/netbook set up, with a Skype and a bluetooth. Can anyone affirm that this would work?

Other wildcards and bygones (at this point) include the Blackberry Storm (still in the game, but a longshot) and the HTC Touch Pro (once the front runner, has lost significant footing since I first touched the thing @ Best Buy a few weeks back, and especially when I got to play around with one @ the Sprint store last week... soooo slow [I thought the Pre came out on 6/3 for some reason, that's why I was there]).

Why an iPhone?:
The new iPhone being announced very soon will no doubt be amazing, with rumored features such as a 32GB model, video recording (perhaps) and more.

Every single person I have met that owns one is exceptionally happy with it.

My monthly bill could actually drop going to AT&T from Sprint.

I have, and love, a Mac, so why not get the phone which is most compatible with my other computer (contact between my Mac and my Treo can be characterized as minimal to non-existent, despite numerous frustrating attempts).

The new camera will rival the Pre's pretty much no matter what.

App store: thousands upon tens of thousands of useful and useless apps for the iPhone,as compared hundreds to thousands of apps for the Pre, with one reviewer experience significant meltdown when trying to access these apps.

Screen: despite all of these other things, one of the first disappointments I had with the Pre was the size of it's screen. iPhone has it beat by .4 inches, which is a significant 12% larger.

Music: I know it is possible to get music on your Treo, but I have never done it, and why would you want to, really? The Pre is rumored to have iTunes compatibility, but this may not last forever, and why not just go with the machine that will work seemlessly forever? I will be excited to be able to listen to podcasts and music straight from my phone. It is just what I was looking for when I bought the Treo way back when, though that never seemed to work out.

In the end, an iPhone with a video recorder will be too much to ignore. Were Apple to unleash a shocker next week and reveal a phone with video and a qwerty, well then the gods of portable phonemanship would have to bow their heads and shake the hands of the men behind the iPhone's creation.
imagine!
Youtube's "suggestions" are only occasionally accurate, but this one fits the bill.  I don't know whether or not it is 'the craziest dunk ever' but it is pretty good.  

6/3/09


My sister, Maggie, is in Africa again!  Liberia, this time, through the summer.  Her blog is accessible by clicking HERE, and  you can read her first entry below.  She's already got a second entry up on the site, so read up!

A Glorious Return to Africa

After landing in The Gambia in 2004, I still distinctly remember the drive from the airport, the massive ENJOY COKE signs along the road, the strip of ostentatious tourist hotels, and the throngs of people walking along the side of the road in bright skirts and kaftans. My first impression of Monrovia, however, greeted me before I even landed: a massive UN helicopter on the side of the runway. There are ample COKE signs here, of course, but far fewer kaftans (Liberia is only 20% Muslim, compared to Gambia’s 98%), no tourists, far fewer hotels, and – while this may just be my imagination or the fact that I haven’t traveled much in the city so far – the fabric doesn’t seem as bright or as abundant. The UN, however, is abundant. The mission has actually been scaled down in the last few years from its highest point at 15,000 troops to around 10,000 now. I’ve only seen two heavily armored massive white tankers plowing down the middle of city streets, though they used to be everywhere in the years immediately following the war.

I’ve only been here about a week, so I have much to learn about the city and the country and its people. But it’s interesting to be in a post-conflict country – I feel completely safe. I’ve met nice people and many of the blown out buildings in Monrovia itself have been repaired. If the UN cars and trucks and buildings and checkpoints weren’t ubiquitous, it would be hard to immediately identify Monrovia as a city that was recently engulfed in a war. At the same time, wars don’t just come and go without leaving any marks. There are security risks, and you just have to be conscious of them.

I find myself wondering when I pass people on the street or talk to them on the side of the road: what’s your story? Did you flee to Monrovia looking for safety? Did you lose your home? Your land? Your livelihoods? Did you lose your husband? Your wife? Your children? There’s a lot of people – both old and young – who have seen and lost a lot here. It’s subtle, but (comparing to The Gambia again), there’s clearly of loss of innocence here. The people are so nice when you talk to them, very kind, friendly – but on the street, passing people, there’s not that same lightheartedness as there was in le Gambie. It’s hard to explain, people are still nice, kind, friendly when you chat. . . but it’s different, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the natural personalities of Liberians vs. Gambians, but it’s hard not to think that the war had something to do with it.

I’m living about 11 miles from actual downtown Monrovia. Which has its negatives and positives. The negatives were glaring at first – it can take up to an hour to get into Monrovia during rush hour, it’s a pain to find someone to drive you all the way back late and night, and you can’t really hang around the city after work too late unless you’re with another person. But the positives became more evident over the course of the week as I walked through the neighborhood. We live in a neighborhood of utter contrasts: we’re in a rather comfortable compound; to our right, an as yet unfinished, ridiculously expensive 5-star hotel; to out left, Liberian families surviving on, maybe, one meal a day; and of course, everything in between.

On Sunday, I went and sat with Saypa, a neighbor who we’ve hired to help our incompetent Western selves with laundry. I’ll end up doing most of my own, just because it’s kind of fun (when it’s a choice and a novelty…). But it’s great to help her have some kind of income. Her sister, Cecilia, works at the hotel – but Saypa was unable to get a job there. So she’s home, with her three kids, and Cecilia’s one kid, doing “nothing.” I quote that because I find it hard to believe an African woman ever does “nothing.” Had she any food to cook, she’d be busy cooking, but there’s no breakfast or lunch to prepare, so she actually does have some time, unlike many African women. Not that lack of food to eat and cook is at all ideal: “If we are lucky, at the end of the day, we can have cassava.”

We were sitting, chatting, and I was asking her about where she was from. So many people here are not from Monrovia - they fled to it during the wars. Monrovia was a city built for 200,000 people, but now hosts between 1.3 and 1.5 million (this is a huge percentage of the total Liberian population, which is estimated at 3.5 million). Our area, Kendeja, is not included in that count, but clearly the entire greater-Monrovia area has been impacted by swelling population. Saypa is originally from Lofa county, which is one of the farthest counties, sharing a border with Guinea’s Forrest Region. When the war first started, primarily in Nimba county, Saypa and her family were able to stay in Lofa. Her father, however, became ill, had no access to medicine, and died. As the war intensified, Saypa and her family fled to Monrovia to escape the warring factions. She married (though I’m not sure if this was before or after fleeing) and has three children: Michael, Patricia, and Emmett. Her husband left her for another woman in Monrovia. She lives in a sturdy cement shell of a house, has no fence, no privacy, no real compound to speak of, no support, no money. She’s 35 and says, “Since my eyes could see I have only seen war. My whole life is only war.”

She’s surprisingly young looking for having three kids, a traumatic lifetime, and current struggles to feed her family. But when she was talking about the war, she looks so sad: “We have seen too much. Terrible, terrible things. They killed too many people. The women, the children, the old people – they suffered the most. The soldiers would kill and kill, they would beat. They would rape.” She just shakes her head. I don’t know what she went through, and I don’t want to ask her too much, not yet at least, I don’t even know what to say, I just shake my head to. She talks about fleeing, about babies dying on their mother’s backs, about how one of Charles Taylor’s rebel soldiers almost shot her: he stopped her on the road and tried to forcibly remove her earrings, as he pulled at her ear, his gun, pointing downwards, accidentally fired into the ground, narrowly missing her feet. It’s hard not to cry: sitting in extreme poverty (0-1 meals a day! Makes Gambia look like a resort!), listening to this young, beautiful woman talk about how her whole life was uprooted, her family members killed, her innocence lost, all because “some people just wanted more power.”

Walking with Saypa through the town, she points to a compound: “During the war, this whole place is filled with bodies. Everywhere you look, you only see bodies.” It’s crazy to just walk by this place, and the thousands of other seemingly innocuous places around Monrovia, that were scenes of chaos and mass death not that long ago. Saypa also took us to Maa Maartha’s Orphanage. Maa Maartha and sixteen kids living in an unfinished (blown-out?) cement structure.

This is all, remember, within 100 yards of the 5-star hotel serving $3 cokes.

* * *

That was, perhaps, not the most uplifting of initial "I’m in Liberia!" blog posts. . . but there are good things here! There is progress! I went out Bomi County on Saturday for a workshop on Decentralization. The format was essentially going through Liberia’s pending decentralization policy and getting local feedback. The workshop had about 60 participants from throughout the county – from the Superintendent (who was a powerful and cool lady) to regular people. The goal is to build strong local government capacity so that the center of power is NOT based solely in Monrovia. And the people were involved, they were interested, they were active participants and they had great ideas and suggestions. I just watched and learned. It was really great to see that side of Liberia – even though the surrounding hillsides were peppered with blown-out buildings and deserted towns, there was a clear and strong feeling a hope and potential. We also stopped in and saw Blue Lake, an old iron-ore mining site now an expansive, crystal lake. Quite lovely.

And even Saypa, though her story is hard and sad and just tragic, she’s a happy person. She wants to send her children to school, she would love to be able to be a teacher herself. She still has dreams and potential. She also has a small plot of land, so we’re going to try to plant some banana and such.

We walked on the beach this weekend up to the lagoon, it’s truly beautiful (having the unbridled Atlantic as your backyard is fantastic). And probably much, much safer than the beach. I went swimming Sunday in the ocean and didn’t go past mid-thigh level water – the tide and undertow were super strong. Reminiscent of Bermuda, circa 1995, when we went swimming on a deserted beach right before hurricane Felix hit. Maybe not quite that bad. Still, for just being a regular, clear-skied beach day, it was pretty intense. A bunch of people were swimming where we were, but none actually venturing very far beyond the shoreline. I mean, you can be sitting on the sand and a wave will come in and then it’s just like a rope that pulls you out. I am not a petite person, I was getting thrown around, it’s quite exhilarating, but it’s one of those beaches that reminds you how strong nature is, and strongly implies that you don’t mess with it. Luckily, I do acknowledge and accept my weak swimming skills and won’t challenge the strong tides (so don’t worry, Mom). But the lagoon is great – calm, peaceful, not deep, no waves or tides.

So far, the country seems to be one of contrasts: the extreme poverty next to a 5-star hotel, the history of violence versus the current peace, the former power-hungry leaders versus a government working to decentralize power. It’s an interesting place to be and an interesting time to be here, especially working within the government, getting to go out to the counties where much of the war played out, hopefully getting to contribute in some small way, and most certainly learning a whole lot.

Today I went to a meeting with the Mayor of Brewersville, it's about a 30 minute ride outside downtown Monrovia. But when we got there she wasn't there - her aunt had died and she went to the funeral. So then we drove back. And that's been my day so far. Slowly slowly. I'm now supposed to write a policy memo for the Minister of Interal Affairs on how to organize and fund an emergency election in Brewersville within the next week. Hm. One of those things that I don't even know where to start . . . at all . . . but going to go try to figure something out.

This Friday, I'm heading out to the provinces to a village about 5 hours outside the capital. We're going to talk to community members of the village, Borgeazay, about a potential agro-storage project in the village. I'm looking forward to get out of Monrovia, even if just for a night. It was great to get to Bomi this past weekend, but it will be nice to really get out there and see what's going on in the countryside.

So then, until next time :)

For more information and background on Liberia’s civil unrest and war: You can definitely get a lot on google of course, but if you’re looking for a quick and fantastic beach read, check out: This Child Will be Great, by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. It’s an autobiography of her life (the first African female head of state, current President of Liberia, and – technically, at least – my boss), but it’s also a very good overview of the history of Liberia. It really is a great beach book – I sat on the beach and read it this weekend :)

6/2/09

Pearl Jam, grunge band


Pretty good performance, overall. Always tough to a.) get out there and play on a soundstage after an extended hiatus, and b.) do so with a new song.

All things considered, though, I am a.) excited for the new record and b.) digging on the new song, essentially. It is definitely different, and, I would say, super poppy. But I am DOWN, and though I can't say that I love it, quite yet, I can totally see myself rocking out hard to this and the other songs on BACKSPACER, once it comes out in the fall. We shall see.

One interesting facet of the new record for the Pearl Jam is the fact that they have entered into a partnership with TARGET for the new record's release, which is being both lambasted and glorified. I fall somewhere in the middle, but overall I think it is a good, smart move for the band, as this interview with band manager Kelly Curtis illuminates.

Basically, it seems like they will be using target like Prince did, ie, as their exclusive retail partner, with the caveat being that discs can still be purchased through the band directly (www.tenclub.net) as well as digitally, and through mom and pop stores. I assume, however, that you will be unable to get it at Best Buy, Walmart, or Barnes & Noble. Interesting.

Also, the boys looked old last night. Besides McCready (who has looked old since 1999) this is the first time I've thought this about Pearl Jam. They all looked the same, essentially, but I think Vedder's new "goatee" is ill advised, and was the source of this thinking, on my part. It took me awhile to peg that as the source, but really, these days, even in LA, is a goatee ever NOT ill advised?